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Artists Who Capture Movement in their Work

By The Arty Teacher - March 6, 2023

Movement regularly comes up as a theme on exam papers in the UK. It’s an exciting and challenging theme to tackle, and finding artists who have achieved movement in their work is key to your students finding inspiration and success.

It’s also good for your students to document the historical context behind their own work, and hopefully, the artists and art-movements in this blog post will help.

Eadweard Muybridge was a 19th-century photographer and inventor who is best known for his pioneering work in capturing the movement of humans and animals through photography. Muybridge’s most famous project was his series of photographic studies of horses in motion, which he produced in the late 1870s. To capture the movement of the horses, Muybridge developed a system of multiple cameras that could be triggered in rapid succession, creating a sequence of images that showed the animal’s movement in detail. This work was groundbreaking because it revealed previously unseen details of movement that had never before been captured in such detail. Muybridge’s work had a profound influence on artists and scientists alike, as it helped to transform our understanding of the mechanics of movement and how it can be represented in art and photography.

Movement in Photography
Jumping a hurdle, saddle, clearing, landing, and recovering, bay horse. From a portfolio of 83 collotypes, 1887, by Edweard Muybridge; part of 781 plates published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Original from the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Futurism was an avant-garde art movement that emerged in Italy in 1909, inspired by the rapidly changing landscape of modern society and the technological advancements of the era. Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni were two of the most prominent artists associated with the movement, and their work sought to capture the energy and velocity of the modern world. Balla’s “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” is a classic example of futurist art, depicting a frenzied scene of a dog running down the street, its leash trailing behind it in a blur of motion.

"Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash' (1912) by Giacomo Balla
“Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash’ (1912) by Giacomo BallaCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Boccioni’s “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” is another iconic work of futurist art that encapsulates the movement’s focus on movement and technological progress. The bronze sculpture depicts a human figure in motion, with flowing lines and a sense of fluidity that conveys the dynamism of the modern world.

Artists Who Capture Movement in the Work
‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’ (1913) by Umberto Boccioni

Marcel Duchamp was a French-American artist who is often associated with the Dada movement and the development of conceptual art. One of Duchamp’s most famous works, “Nude Descending a Staircase,” exemplifies his interest in capturing movement through art. The painting, which was first exhibited in 1912, shows a series of overlapping images of a nude figure in motion, descending a staircase. Duchamp’s use of multiple images and overlapping forms creates a sense of motion that is almost cinematic in nature, as if the viewer is witnessing a series of still frames from a film. This technique was groundbreaking at the time, as it challenged traditional notions of static, representational art and introduced a new way of thinking about the relationship between movement and visual art.

Artists Who Capture Movement in the Work
‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ (1912) Marcel Duchamp

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian-born artist who is widely recognized as one of the pioneers of abstract art. His work is characterized by vibrant colors, dynamic shapes, and a sense of movement that seems to emanate from within the canvas. Kandinsky believed that art should be an expression of the artist’s innermost emotions and spiritual ideals, and he sought to create works that would evoke powerful emotional responses in the viewer. To achieve this, he often incorporated bold, sweeping lines and geometric shapes that seem to dance across the canvas, creating a sense of movement and energy that is both exhilarating and captivating.

Artists Who Capture Movement in the Work
‘Two Black Spots’ (1923) by Wassily Kandinsky

Movement and Op Art

Op art, which emerged in the 1960s, was a form of abstract art that explored the visual effects of optical illusions. Artists like Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely used geometric shapes, colours, and patterns to create dynamic optical illusions that appeared to move and change as the viewer moved. Their work was inspired by scientific theories about the perception of light and colour, and aimed to challenge the viewer’s visual perception.

Contemporary Artists who Capture Movement in their Work

Textile artist Nicola Henley achieves a sense of movement in her work both through her subject matter and the gestural marks that she uses. Swooping birds and atmospheric seas and skies regularly appear in her work. She uses a variety of processes such as dying, painting with pigments and screen-printing onto cotton calico and then texturing the surface with various materials, using hand and machine stitch. On her website she states:

“I am continually inspired by the natural world but in particular birds and their movement within the landscape and coastal regions. I love studying how they move across the sky and interact with air currents and wave motion, or their distinctive characteristic movement as they feed along shorelines or flock to feeding grounds.”

She runs on-demand courses from her studio in Ireland too, which you can read about here.

British fine artist Sally McKay captures movement in her drawings and prints. Energetic, gestural marks glide across her work. With a background in dance as well as art, she has exhibited her work widely and is in collections around the world. You can also follow McKay on Instagram.

London-based artist and costume designer Georg Meyer Wiel creates work that is a direct physical and emotional response to the world that surrounds him. Dancers and boxers from his theatrical world flow across the paper. A short, inspiring video about ‘Drawing Movement’ gives insights into his process and would be enormously useful for students. Find it here.

Experiments Your Students Could Try:

  • Look at some of Muybridge’s images. Sketch what you can see. Try sketching in different media.
  • Film movement and look at a frame from the film to inspire drawings and artworks.
  • Photograph a person, animal or object that is moving. Copy images onto acetate and tracing paper and play with layering these images to create a sense of movement.
  • Do the above but play with the images digitally. Layering and experimenting with translucency to achieve different effects.
  • Look at Kandinsky’s work. Use collage to recreate his work. Alternatively, photograph movement. (Perhaps throwing something up into the air) Create collages, inspired by Kandinsky and your photographs.
  • Ask a friend to model for you and create work inspired by Sally McKay or Georg Meyer Wiel. Think carefully about the media they use.
  • Photograph feathers and create paintings inspired by Nicola Henley.

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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